All this week, the Bruins Daily staff will hand out their midyear grades for the 2023-24 Boston Bruins.
In Part 1, James Garrison assessed this year’s crop of Bruins forwards. Today, in Part 2, we examine Boston’s defense and goaltending.
Through the first 49 games, the Bruins have exceeded early expectations in their first year without Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. While they could still use some improvements at the trade deadline, they’ve positioned themselves well for a second half run as they carry a 31-9-9 mark entering their bye week.
As the All-Star break continues, we’ll take a look at how the Bruins’ defensive core and goaltending fared up until this point. We begin our assessments with the dynamic tandem in net.
At this time last year, Swayman had turned a corner following an early-season injury. This year served as a mini role reversal between Swayman and Ullmark.
Despite that, the Bruins aren’t anywhere near the top of the East without Ullmark and Swayman. Heck, they may have been on the outside looking in of the top eight at this point.
For his part, Swayman deserved his first all-star nomination. The fourth-year pro sits atop the league in save percentage and sports the second-lowest goals-against average among goaltenders with 20 or more starts.
Hardly anyone expected Ullmark to replicate his otherworldly stat line from his Vezina campaign a year ago. And while the numbers aren’t as eye-opening, Ullmark continues to provide a steady hand in net.
The Swede encountered some hiccups this season, but slowly found his rhythm again upon returning from his recent lower-body injury. Amid his third season in Boston, Ullmark’s .872 save percentage in high-danger 5v5 scoring chances currently sits fourth among goalies with 20 or more starts.
Charlie McAvoy (41 GP, 7-26-33)
The reliable three-zone defenseman encountered his second career suspension for an illegal check to the head of Oliver Ekman-Larsson in late October. That, along with missing four games following an upper-body injury sustained on a reverse hit from Buffalo’s J.J. Perterka, marked McAvoy’s lone blips.
The Bruins could use more scoring production out of their blue line upon returning from their break, as they sit in the middle of the pack in that department. They’ll lean on McAvoy’s skating and decision-making in transition in an attempt to improve their offensive output from their D core.
Brandon Carlo (44 GP, 3-10-13)
Carlo encountered the worst year of his career in 2021-22 during Bruce Cassidy’s final season. Upon Jim Montgomery’s arrival, it took Carlo a while to recover from that nightmarish season. But this year, he’s returned to form as one of Boston’s better penaltykillers and shutdown blue-liners.
His concussion history remains a concern after sustaining his latest injury against the Avalanche on Jan. 8. But as long as he’s healthy, the Bruins won’t hesitate to use Carlo on the PK and closeout situations. Boston currently sports a plus-19 goal differential at 5v5 whenever Carlo hops on for a shift.
Hampus Lindholm (49 GP, 1-18-19)
Lindholm embarked on a career offensive campaign (10-43-53) during his first full season in Boston in 2023-24. He admirably fulfilled multiple duties as McAvoy recovered from off-season surgery. Lindholm’s production remained steady once McAvoy returned, but he struggled to persevere through a fractured foot during Boston’s first-round series against Florida.
The struggles carried over through the first half of the season for the former Anaheim Duck as Boston’s back end encountered several injuries during that stretch. Whenever he seems to turn a corner, Lindholm takes a few steps back with costly mistakes like his ill-timed pinch against Carolina a week ago, resulting in Jordan Martinook’s game-winner on a breakaway.
He’s become a scapegoat on social media and with the “Everybody Sucks” afternoon drivetime show on 98.5. Lindholm’s season hasn’t been as poor comparably, but regardless of potential additions at the trade deadline, the Bruins need a better three-zone production out of Lindholm during the home stretch.
Matt Grzelcyk (35 GP, 2-5-7)
The Charlestown native saw his time on the secondary power play unit decrease upon Lindholm’s arrival two years ago. At the same time, he remained productive in a 5v5 top pairing role with McAvoy.
Grzelcyk encountered two injury-plagued stints this season, missing 14 games in total. He started hitting his offensive stride upon his return from a lower-body ailment in late December, embarking on a seven-game stretch where he notched four assists from Dec. 30-Jan. 11.
Whether Grzelcyk remains in Boston’s long-term plans is anyone’s guess. But the pending UFA would love nothing more than to make the most of the final few months of the season.
Derek Forbort (24 GP, 0-4-4)
For two seasons, Forbort and Connor Clifton served as a pair of reliable cogs on the third defensive unit. The latter left for Buffalo in the off-season. The former may have one foot out the door as well.
Forbort missed over half of Boston’s 49 games through the break as he nursed a nagging lower-body injury. And while the Bruins benefit from his reliable penalty-killing skillset, the veteran may find himself on the outside looking in if they add a depth defenseman or two at the deadline.
Parker Wotherspoon (20 GP, 0-3-3)
The 26-year-old found himself on the wrong end of the numbers game among the deep core of young Islanders blueliners like Noah Dobson, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. But through 20 games with the big club, Wotherspoon’s work ethic and defensive assertiveness allowed him to secure at least a seventh defenseman role in his first season in Boston.
The 2015 fourth-round pick will only benefit from increased ice time. Between Forbort’s injury and Kevin Shattenkirk’s load management, Wotherspoon will likely encounter more minutes in a third-pairing role, barring any injuries or trade developments.
His prime days are behind him. But between his time on the secondary power play unit and his stability in a third-paring role, Shattenkirk continues to fulfill his roles to a T.
Mason Lohrei (27 GP, 3-3-6)
Following a productive training camp, the Bruins sent Lohrei to Providence in a top-pairing role. But McAvoy’s suspension and the rash of injuries to the blue-line prompted Lohrei to make his first trip up I-95 a little earlier than anticipated.
Lohrei impressed in his NHL debut on Nov. 2 in a top-four role against a skilled Maple Leafs bunch. He notched an assist in his first game and followed up a few days later with the first goal of his career in Dallas.
Like Matthew Poitras, Lohrei encountered a few setbacks during his initial stints. Now he’s back in Providence, attempting to improve on his defensive traits while logging heavy minutes in even strength and special teams situations.
Ideally, the Bruins will want a more polished version of Lohrei whenever he receives his next callup. At least in Providence, he won’t get lost in the shuffle.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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